How to Get In: Preparing for Graduate School

General Guidelines

  • Do very well in all of your courses, but especially in your psychology classes. Graduate schools often start with a huge pile of applicants and their first move is to eliminate applications from students with mediocre grades (a 3.5 would be considered mediocre at highly competitive schools; others might view a 3.0 as acceptable).
  • Impress your psychology professors from your first day as a freshman with your diligence, responsibility, people skills, and critical thinking capabilities. You will need at least three of them to write glowing letters on your behalf.
  • Gain as much volunteer or psychology-related work experience as you can.
  • Research graduate programs, looking for one that will be a good match (such that you have what they want, and they have what you want).
  • Join Psychology Club and attend panels relating to graduate school, specialties, and admission to programs. Aim to hold office or be elected to the honor organization, Psi Chi.

Sophomore Year

  • Start volunteering. Explore local volunteer opportunities (or employment) during the academic year or volunteer in your hometown during the summer. See the links on this website to local volunteer and employment opportunities.
  • Attend psychology-related seminars at UW-Platteville and elsewhere and document your attendance.
  • Read the publications available in the department office on getting into graduate school, taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and identifying what various programs offer.

Junior Year

  • Do an internship or Cooperative Field Experience. Contact Dr. Wruble or Dr. Gates about the CFE program.
  • Investigate summer jobs or educational and research opportunities related to psychology. Many summer internships are available through laboratories or professional organizations. If you are a minority student, investigate the minority summer programs, such as those at the University of South Carolina and the University of Georgia, or the minority summer research experience offered by Bell Laboratories. Check with your department faculty on a regular basis concerning available opportunities and apply early.
  • Prepare and register for (and in the spring, take) the aptitude test of the GRE, even if you have not yet decided to apply for graduate school.

Summer Before Your Senior Year

  • Consult the APA publication Graduate Studies in Psychology for requirements and information on graduate programs in psychology. A copy of this book is in the departmental office. List schools of interest to you, and request from them bulletins, brochures, financial aid forms, and department application forms.
    • For job ideas, descriptions, skills needed, and interview techniques, consult the following APA publications: The Psychology Major: Training and Employment Strategies, Getting In: A Step-by-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology, Career Opportunities for Psychologists. List job areas to pursue and investigate sources of additional training you will need.
  • If you are interested in social work, consult the departmental copy of The Social Work Graduate School Applicant’s Handbook.
  • Write an APA style resume (obtain consultation from faculty members or the Career Center). Remember, neatness and organization create a good first impression.
  • Save money for graduate school application fees, resumes, and transcript costs.

Fall Semester of Senior Year

  • Be sure you take (and pass) all courses needed to graduate. Obtain a statement of standing from the registrar to verify you have passed the required courses. You don't want any surprises next semester when you apply for graduation!
  • Discuss with your advisor and other psychology faculty members the graduate programs of interest to you. Show them your resume so they may better counsel you and determine if your expectations are realistic and obtain a list of additional suggestions from them.
  • If possible, actually visit the schools of greatest interest, and establish personal contact with key people at each. Obtain impressions of the institution from others having similar backgrounds and qualifications. Even if there are no existing vacancies, showing your interest and establishing personal contact will give you an advantage.
  • Prepare for and take the aptitude and advanced tests of the GRE in October if possible, and no later than December. Take the MAT if the programs in which you are interested require it.
  • Request a student copy of your transcript from every institution you have attended and check for errors. This process may take longer than you think, especially if there are errors, so allow ample time.
  • Duplicate your resume and transcripts for distribution. Remember there are application fees (which may be waived, so ask) and charges for mailing official transcripts (which should follow as soon as the fall semester's grades are included). Even resume duplication and mailing can be expensive for a student budget.
  • Determine from whom you wish to obtain letters of recommendation and ask these people at least three weeks before the deadline for your application whether they can write you a strong letter of recommendation. Supply them with necessary forms, addresses, information about your qualifications and due dates, along with jobs or programs for which you are applying. Inform them as to how the letter is to be submitted and provide addressed, stamped envelopes if necessary. Follow up one week before each deadline with a thank-you note (a "friendly" reminder to ensure that your information has been sent). To be on the safe side, you might want to ask one additional faculty member to write a letter for you.
  • Request that your GRE scores and official transcripts be sent to all schools where you are applying.
  • Draft a narrative statement about why you want to go to graduate school (this will be tailored for each program to which you will apply). Avoid saying “I want to help people.”
  • Check to be certain all materials, especially recommendations, have been sent. Be persistent.
  • Include in your application package all requested materials and names of those sending recommendations. Indicate what additional material is to follow (transcripts with your fall grades, revised test scores, etc.). Follow application instructions exactly. Keep a record of all contacts made and all materials sent to each school.

Spring Semester of Senior Year

  • Verify that all your application materials were received at every place you applied.
  • Send additional GRE results (if higher) and fall semester grade report to update your application.
  • If you are not accepted, call everywhere you applied, asking them to keep your application active through the summer, as you are still interested, even in a last-minute acceptance. Also call admissions offices of schools whose requirements you easily meet, but to which you did not apply, to see if they are still considering applicants. If so, apply.
  • Job hunt. You may need to postpone graduate school for a year and reapply. A good job related to psychology will enhance your credentials.